Co-Parenting with a Narcissist or High-Conflict Personality

Co-Parenting with a Narcissist or High-Conflict Personality

Blog ImageThe following passage was taken from “Divorcing a Narcissist” under the chapter of “Tina’s Tips” :

Co-Parenting with a Narcissist: The number one piece of advice that I can give you is to be a healthy role model to your children. Do not ever speak poorly of your ex-husband or your ex-wife. As an adult child of divorced parents, I can testify to how damaging this is to a child. Regardless of how you feel about your former partner, this is still the parent of your child. I have witnessed the damage that words can do in my own children who are subjected to their father speaking poorly about me personally. Do not ever put your children in the middle of adult issues.

Do not argue or fight in front of your children. In my case, there have been multiple one-sided arguments where Seth would yell at me or speak strongly to me in front of the children. I can still visualize the fear and sadness shown in my daughters’ faces when Seth acts inappropriately during custody exchanges.

I have learned to ask my local law enforcement agencies for a “Keep the Peace” if I feel that Seth is escalated during our exchanges. Make sure that your children understand that Police Officers are not “bad” they are peace-keepers and protectors of the law. Explain their purpose for being at the exchange.  I am thankful to have multiple friends locally who are in law enforcement so my daughters do not have a fear of police officers.

Just as it is important for you to seek counseling, it is equally important for your children to be in counseling with a therapist who understands your situation and narcissism. A knowledgeable therapist can help a child to sort through their feelings and to find their voice. A child can learn to set their own personal boundaries which is an important skill if you are the child of a narcissist.

Narcissists in general are often consumed with perfection, outward appearances and generally lack empathy. In today’s society, these are common characteristics that are all around us.  I use day-to-day opportunities to counter these issues with my daughters. Here are a few examples:

  • If you see a “Lost Dog” poster, use this opportunity to discuss the feelings surrounded with this sad event.  The dog must be feeling frightened and the family must be feeling worried or sad.
  • We often carry “care packages” in my car from our church filled with a variety of essentials. We give these packages to homeless people that we pass and then discuss how fortunate we are to have a home.
  • I often talk about the fact that differences make each person unique and therefore, beautiful.
  • Remind your children that mistakes are learning experiences so there is no reason to feel badly about them.  Let them know how adults should behave toward them if they make a mistake and how to respond if the adult chooses instead to behave in a negative way.
  • I try to find the positives in each situation and I model this to my children. My daughter was recently disappointed and my heart filled with pride when I heard her say, “Let’s look at the positives.”

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6 Responses

  1. This topic strikes close to home for me. My ex and her partner have recently read a motion, or their interpretation of it, to my children (ages 4, 5, 8, 9) that I filed recently. The kids were very upset at school the next day. Luckily a school volunteer noticed my 5 yr old’s distress and had her call me (with teacher’s permission). I said, “I love you, mom loves you, and I will never keep you from seeing your mom.” She was told she’d never see her mom again and that it was my fault. She said, “I knew you wouldn’t do that,” and went back to class with a much better attitude.

    I then notified the principal at the school of my two older children. He checked in on them and confirmed my 8 yr old was having problems and he asked me to speak with her. She wasn’t as easy to comfort and asked about a lot of specifics detailed in the motion. I did my best to repeat my simple message of reassurance, but she seemed to need more specifics. I can see how some of the topics in the motion would be confusing for them, and could be twisted out of context, but I didn’t want to compound her mistake by involving my children further. “These are matters for grown ups, and not something children should be involved in,” felt like a cop out and I feel it made me look even more ‘guilty’ to them.

    My eldest was handling it better on the surface, but later expressed a lot of anxiety and concern. One of the topics in the motion was something attributed to my eldest, and her mother verbally attacked her over it. To paraphrase, “Why did you say this! Your father yelled at me about this!” So now my daughter doesn’t feel like she can talk to me anymore. I have great communication and trust with my kids, so the damage this has caused is very painful for me.

    I have always endeavored to be respectful about their mom, and refrain from speaking negatively about her or her partner in front of them. I often feel like I can’t defend myself without sharing details that I don’t think they should have. Mom shares details, usually false or embellished, and I feel I can’t refute them without sinking to her level. I try to limit any discussion to general statements, “I don’t agree with that…some people have different opinions/perspectives…I would never do that.” My eldest frequently says, “I don’t know who to believe, mom says one thing and you say something else.”

    How do you deal with this!? And how do you bring this up to the children’s therapist, or help the therapist see that you’re dealing with a NPD/High-conflict person? She’s very manipulative and a very good liar, and I can see how it’s hard to see her true nature at first. She’s very good at playing the victim and martyr.

    I try to live by this quote, but its been difficult when dealing with person who is constantly attacking me through my children and trying to turn them against me:

    “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”
    ― Benjamin Franklin

  2. I applaud you for trying to take the high road. Sharing intimate court details with young children is manipulative and emotionally abusive. You are dealing with parental alienation behavior and it is an common form of abuse that can lead to parental alienation sydrome in children. I suggest getting Dr. Kathleen Reay’s book titled; “Toxic Divorce’ A workbook for Alienated Parents. A stellar resource that will help guide you.

  3. My wife has spent the last 6 years writing a memoir of our last 10 years together.She wrote it in a way to introduce the average person to “Parental Alienation”I find it fasinating how many people don’t have a clue to how this works.Most people would say (Get a lawyer)or (Take her to court)people that have been there know most times that doesn’t work…all that does is drain your finances.Please take the time to read the book.If your a prime member at amazon you can borrow it from the library for no cost.Thank you for your time..Gary

    Go to: type in ( Gracie’s Diary a Memoir)

  4. Robert,
    Your current experience was precisely mine. My ex shared all filings and communications with our children (with spins and twists to serve her need for control), and my daughter (who was seven at the time of our separation) was very deeply affected. She is eighteen now, and while I won’t go into detail here, she was damaged profoundly as she matured in this environment. Her mother is a full-on sociopath, and no degree of professional intervention made a dent in her behavior. She was not concerned about the damage she was doing. Over the span of ten years, I spent huge sums to address it, and we realized no benefit from it. She is now trying to reassemble her life, and it is not an easy road.

    My current wife has had a similar experience with her narcissist ex, but the outcome has been quite different. The difference has been that over the course of multiple litigations brought by him, we chanced upon a court-ordered therapist who not only understood narcissism, she’d had personal experience with one in her life, so my stepchildren’s father’s behavior was entirely comprehensible to her. She was able to effectively communicate to our kids that what their father was doing was utterly wrong and damaging to them – making this kind of definitive judgement is critical – and provided all of us with strategies for coping. I have no doubt my step-kids’ lives will be richer as a result. They have found their voice, and are making healthy choices.

    My suggestion to you is to beat the bushes for a therapist who understands, on a personal level, what narcissism is all about. They are few and far between, but they are out there. You will know who does when you speak with them because you will sense pain in their voice when they talk about it. It will be far cheaper to go on a therapist hunt than it will be to expect that the courts and the “legal-psychological complex” will give a damn. Their job, in my experience, is to make certain the freaks retain control over their children. They do not care about damage to kids’ lives, and will use many words and many of your dollars to tell you there is nothing they can do to intervene.

    Tina has my email address, so if you’d like to compare notes, let me know. Drop her a line, and she can provide you with my address.

  5. Co-parenting with a narcissist is a joke. I explain it to people by comparing it to digging a hole to China. Some things are just not possible. And while it is sometimes ok to attempt to do the impossible, there are other times when such attempts would put one in great danger. If you tried to dig a hole to China, the extreme temperatures below the Earth’s crust would kill you. You would never reach China, and there’s a great chance that you would disappear forever, leaving people wondering what happened to you. Co-parenting with a narcissist is like digging a hole to China – and making your kids dig with you.

    The only advice I have about co-parenting is to document, document, document. Assume that you will end up in court at some point, and be ready to prove that you have put great effort into your attempts to co-parent.

  6. Thank you for posting this. Love the advice on helping our children. Hits so close to home.